White Rose

Read by Flaminia Cinque
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The white heraldic rose is a symbol of The House of York, and has since been adopted as a symbol of Yorkshire as a whole. The House of Lancaster is represented by a red heraldic rose. The rose is also the sitter’s favourite flower, as she shows in the gesture recalling her Yorkshire childhood (see also Per Ardua ad Astra for the telescoping of past and present).

Conversations with hospital staff as well as volunteers often revealed close personal connections to cancer in their own lives or in a relative or friend, which they feel inspired them to choose this work (see The Possibility of Joy).

Italicisation references a past conversation that is recalled.

“Yorkshire is God’s Country!”
There’s no trace of Yorkshire now –
except for the echo
of a white rose
in the immaculate complexion,
the quiet loveliness.

As a girl
she scoops up the petals
in the grandmother’s garden
outside Hull,
adds water for scent.

Laughing, she dabs behind her ears
once more in the moment
walking the familiar terrain –
the old shed, the bird bath, the fruit trees –
where she and her brother would hide.
“It was like having an outdoor house.”

The family cross the Pennines
and the White Rose turns to Red.
In Manchester in the 60’s and 70’s
she’s sent to convent school.
“I just rebelled!”

Now home is London
where she walks her dog in the local park –
a Standard Schnauzer
“who thinks she’s human.”

Like all animals
when her owner becomes unwell
she knows.

After three years working as a volunteer
she is herself diagnosed.
The stealth-tumour finally shows up
in a colonoscopy.
There’d been no signs,
nothing in the blood,
she just felt tired.

The time she’d spent
working in the Hospital
helped her cope, she says,
prepared her for her own journey.
But still.
The year the cancer takes
brings lostness.

she wants “to be normal” again,
returns to the tea stand,
a subtle and knowing presence
where lone souls find succour.

Seeing a woman on her own
emerge from her consultation,
she’s prompted to ask
Do you want a hug?
The woman, who’s just got the all clear,
doesn’t hesitate for a moment.
“More than anything I want a hug!”

“Cancer can give you that sense of being brave,”
she observes,
“I don’t want to be sterile.”

Post chemo
the head of hair’s still there,
but the blonde has morphed.
She sees it as an opportunity
to say who she is –
and also save money.
The new tones of silver and grey
are beguiling as moonlight,
give a touch of Versailles
to the blue-green eyes,
mermaid pools.

She has a flair for colour and texture,
partnered prints and colours for Mothercare.
The designer’s gaze now falls on gardens,
advising on flower and shrub,
probing the full spectrum of possibility.
“I’m not a minimalist,” she laughs.

Except when it comes to shopping.
Cancer taught her to question every purchase –
a lesson not forgotten.
The new kitchen houses a legion
of recycling bins.
“We’ve become so throw-away.”

She’s always worked on Clinic 8,
a non medical presence
who will listen.
“You build up associations with people.”
But even after six years
it’s hard not to be affected.
Seeing women in their twenties and thirties,
some with newborns,
makes her sad.
When she’s finished
she has to take
“a deep intake of breath.”

Beneath the pulse of Clinic 8
loss and lostness are constant,
an elegiac strain that underscores
the rapid announcements to rooms.
She fetches her coat.

the tea trolley
fades into the wall.